The Very Slippery Assumption

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By: Jana Greene

I once sat in on a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy class under a Super Zen Therapist,  and let me just say out of the gate, it was FASCINATING. I cannot even begin to touch on all the things I learned (and have on occasion, even practiced) but seriously, folks. If you ever have the opportunity to explore this therapy,  I highly recommend it.

The term “dialectical” means a synthesis or integration of opposites. The primary dialectic within DBT is between the seemingly opposite strategies of acceptance and change.

I love the premise, and the belief that OK, I feel this way, but I don’t have to. I can feel THAT way. Life is nothing if not a big, fat paradox on so many levels. I will take all the help I can get! I’m still about 95% emotion-driven, but hey – that’s a 5% improvement (and ‘progress, not perfection,’ right?)

About halfway through the course, though, we came to this one sentence in the teaching, and my spiritual breaks screeched to so such a sudden halt that it could have propelled me right out of the classroom and back into my AllTheFeels way of coping with everything.

That sentence was this:

Assume that everyone is doing the best they can at any given time.

Ok, hold up. HOLD UP!

I KNOW that’s not true in certain instances. For instance, when I visit my children in their homes and they are not super nice and tidy, I KNOW for a fact that they are not doing the best they can. I taught them, so obviously I’m calling BULLSH*T on this.

And what about other people, who have – and are actively –  hurting me by making stupid decisions? You are telling me that the person/people who have (to my mind) driven me to require therapy are doing the best they can? I have to ACCEPT that?

“No, you can accept it or not. Is not accepting it working for you?” Says Super Zen Therapist.

Huh.

Here’s what I’m still learning, and what is helping me oil those spiritual breaks and get them rolling in a forward-moving direction again….

You cannot keep a handle on another person’s issue. You simply cannot.

I came up with a dorky little rhyme to help me remember this, and I’ve probably said it to myself several thousand times (especially when the girls were teens):

It’s not your decision to make, nor your action to take.

You can die trying. You can contortionist yourself into all kinds of positions that only end up making you sore and tired. The stress will kill you, I’m not even kidding.

But that’s what happens when you assume that another person is not even TRYING, and you take it personal.

It’s not personal. That person is learning and morphing and all of your hand-wringing and brow-beating will not another minute add to your relationship life, but may well shorten it.

I don’t have to go back that far in my own history to recognize the power of this principal.

When I was an active alcoholic, I wanted to be better for my children. Even as intimate as the mother/child connection was, I didn’t always get it right!  I had to learn and do, stop and lurch forward. Lather, rinse, repeat.

My process spilled over to them, but it was never meant to be personal.

I was doing the best I could at the moment, I swear to you. I did the best I could until I could do better. I did better when I surrounded myself with people who were doing better and whose love for me was not contingent on my doing better.

It will behoove YOUR state of mind to believe that the person most getting on your nerves is doing their best in this moment, with their particular life experience.

(And when I really stop to consider it, even the example of my kids and their tendencies NOT to be neat freaks, It was I who cleaned their rooms for ALL of their lives when they lived at home, because in some twisted way, I was making up for lost ‘drunk’ time as a mommy. They may well BE doing the best they know how in this moment. Because something is important to me, doesn’t mean its the only ‘right’ way  (But that’s a subject for another therapy session….)

What about the big things?

If someone else’s life choices are spilling over on you and your heart is broken? Consider that they are doing their best. Go one further, even. Pray for them and believe for resolution to their situation. Petition God and plead your case, and then release.

It’s not your decision to make, nor your action to take.

You cannot grasp it because you aren’t SUPPOSED to grasp it.

You think holding on to it is helping, but it won’t be under your control.

You cannot drop it until you drop your Very Slippery Assumption and use both arms instead to embrace the person driving you completely crazy.

God  bless us, every one.

Trusting Adult Kids to God’s Care (Even when it really freaks you out)

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By: Jana Greene

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and because it was Mother’s Day, I cried a lot. I cried because it is my first totally empty nest Mother’s Day. I cried because  my own relationship with my mother is fractured into a bazillion pieces. I cried because someone I love didn’t acknowledge me at all. I did have a few tear-free segments of the day, but menopause was around to keep the good times rolling.

I may or may not have fed my feelings heaping spoonfuls of Haagen Dazs Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Ice Cream.

I’m still kind of mopey, honestly. But I’m getting a grip today. I must get a grip today.

You see,  I love my daughters. Oh my God, how I love my daughters. But they took different paths than I’d expected.

I think that every mother has a certain set of dreams and assumptions for her child. Those assumptions are that your child will grow up to be successful and kind and happy, and stop wiping boogers on the wall. Happily, this is usually the case.

I assumed mine would grow up and get scholarships to universities because they are super smart, they would naturally stay away from all drugs and alcohol (from, you know, learning from MY mistakes, like THAT ever worked,) graduate college and get jobs they are passionate about. That they would be in straight, monogamous relationships – not living together before marriage – then get married to Godly men, and have a couple of kids that they devote their entire lives to, just like mom. (But that was MY own dream, and I couldn’t even do it right!)

Then there are is The Big Granddaddy of All Dreams –  that they will follow God – really know Him on a personal, intimate level. That they will pray regularly, and allow Him to guide their lives.

The reality is that kids are not appliances – there are no warranties. They are on a crazy merry-g0-round. You can try to hop on if you dare, but it won’t slow down for you and in the end, there is a lot of nausea involved. It’s best just to stay out of the way. There is no control.

There is, however, a loving God we can trust them to.

Perhaps your child grew up and stopped wiping boogers on the wall (remember when that seemed like such a BIG DEAL? Sigh)  but instead ran away from home and you don’t know where she is.

Or is gay / transgendered.

Or is a drug addict.

Or is in prison.

Or drinks to much.

Or is mean to people who don’t think the way she does.

Or has turned her back on everything you taught her.

Or hates you.

Or hates God.

…Any deviation from the loving plans you made for that child when she was first born and they lay her on your belly. (Remember how EASY it was to TRUST GOD with that child when they were brand new? Piece of cake!) New babies don’t stay new, though. They grow up and do wonderful, glorious, horrible, confused, amazing, and confounding things. Things for which YOU HAVE ZERO CONTROL.

Yet, in the midst of whatever your child engages in that breaks your heart, you still – always – love that child.  If YOU love her so much, can you imagine how much ABBA loves your child? He isn’t surprised at your kid’s lifestyle choices, and He isn’t limited by  our ways of imagining our children ‘fixed.’

There is no grace deficit for your child that you have to worry will run out. God is merciful and FULL of grace! Because they are not the droids we were looking for – happy little predictable robots – does not mean God is not working out HIS PURPOSE IN OUR KIDS, even as they experience stuff.

I still pray every day that my wild and loving and confounding children will make good choices. I pray that The Big Granddaddy of All Dreams that I harbor in my heart for them comes to fruition. I will pray that until my dying breath.

I want to trust the Lord with my daughters JUST AS MUCH as when they lay on my belly as little newborns, squinting up at their mama. I want to trust Him that easily with them still, and I’m asking Him to help me do it.

Jesus, 

I lay my children down at the altar and TRUST YOU with their lives. Ultimately I know that my children must know YOU intimately. Lord, help me get out of the way.

And all God’s children said, Amen.

Save

Mom, Re-purposed

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By: Jana Greene

On my youngest daughter’s last high school theater performance, I sat in the front row to watch her take her last bow and had the sharpest pang in my heart. My husband and I had sat in that same theater through the band, chorus and theater productions of our three daughters seemingly hundreds of times through the years. On this last event, I had come by myself. As the crowd filed out of the theater, I just sat in the chair and felt tears well up in my eyes. The Drama teacher and her troupe of performers were packing up the last prop in the darkened room when I finally stood up and – much to my own surprise – loudly questioned to the empty theater, “What’s a helicopter mom supposed to do NOW!?”

It was a very sincere question, one that I would wrangle with for the next few years as the kids left the ‘nest’ one by one to pursue their own lives. Just as they should.

Being a Mom is a full identity, right? RIGHT!?

Except that it really isn’t and never should have been in total. When God created us and poured the emotions and and love into us, I’m not sure anymore that he expected us to pour every drop of it back out without leaving anything for our own spirits. I don’t think ‘wife’ and ‘mom’ is our only identity, even those roles are a huge part of who we are.

It’s not that we didn’t want our kids to grow up. Oh how we did! During the teen years especially, God prepares you to let them go by allowing the obnoxiousness and rebellious quotient to replicate exponentially in your child. Yes, they ‘grow up so fast’ but NOT FAST ENOUGH when they are full of attitude and angst. But what they say about kids ‘coming back around’ on the other side of the teen years is SO true, I am happy to report.

I am not asking them to move back in. PLEASE LET ME BE CLEAR ABOUT THAT.

I am just asking God to re-purpose me as a 47-year old woman whose kids have become awesome and independent young women.

Mother Identity Crisis is also known in more polite circles as “Empty Nest Syndrome.” The subject doesn’t get a lot of play in the media because it isn’t a hot topic. It pertains to middle-aged women and the grunt work they did with hearts a-burst with love who have lost their some of their purpose as the children grow up and need them less.

It isn’t a subject that graces magazine covers. It’s not the subject of Lifetime Channel movies.

It isn’t ‘sexy.’

But it needs to be addressed because the women who make up this demographic are a huge part of society and are walking around like shells as they try to explore who they really ARE now. All we really hear about as we near our fifties is the message that we are past our prime, and too many of us believe that.

I flatly refuse to be past my ‘prime.’

I had many ‘jobs’ when my kids were growing up, but never a ‘career,’ and that was purposeful. I wanted to pour all of my emotional energies into my kids and did so as I do every other thing – obsessively. Who needs hobbies when your whole life is about making sure these offspring have dance lessons to chauffeur and field trips to chaperone? Who has time for exploring interests when the 2nd Grade classroom needs a “Room Mother” (now THERE’S a calling for you!)

I just kind of lost myself in fray, and it seemed a noble thing to do at the time.

It WAS the noble thing to do at the time. Nothing makes one feel successful like cutting peanut butter sandwiches with heart cookie-cutters and packing a lunchbox with a note that says “Your book report will go great! I love you!” I’m not being snarky…things like that did indeed make me feel successful. Making my kids happy was tantamount.  I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

But mothers of youngsters take note – you will need to remember who you are at your own core one day. Take that pottery class. Pursue that degree, if you wish. Read books that aren’t only about Very Hungry Caterpillars and the adventures of Junie B. Jones. Listen to music not sung exclusively by puppets and cartoon characters.

Super importantly, go on date night with your husband. Your relationship with him needs to stay fresh for the day your children take up residence in their own lives.

A dear friend of mine has four children, all of whom are peering over the edge of the nest – the nice, fluffy, safe nest their mother has feathered all of their lives.

“So here we are,” she says. “And my life is still revolving around planning my celebrations around the fleeting loyalties of my offspring.”

She and I often compare notes about MIC and the challenges of this new season. Mainly, figuring out who God created us to be outside of the “mom” role.

“God is doing a new thing in my life. GOD IS DOING A NEW THING,” She recently mused. “Maybe I need to stop doing the old things and expecting them to fit in my new life?”

I think she is on to something there. Our kids still need us, but in brand new ways. They need us to do the new things, and  to trust in who they grew up to be.

But Lord Jesus, help us with ALL OF THESE FEELS!

Letting go is HARD.

Lord, help me to consider things not from the perspective of an ‘Empty Nester’  (with the emphasis on loss and hollow space) to being FULL and purposeful.

I’m not sure what that fullness looks like yet, to be honest.

But I know that I want to set a precedent for my grown daughters to know what a fulfilled woman in mid-life can be, just in case they have daughters of their own to pour into, who will – as it should be – leave their own nests one day.

I know that the Lord wants abundant life for us in this season. He wants His daughter to know her own interests and ministries outside those of her children. He wants us to be able to enjoy our marriages, which were so often put on the back burner in the interest of feathering those nests.

Re-purpose me, God. My kids are grown but you are nowhere near done with using and blessing my life. Take the front row seat in my life.

In each new season, re-purpose me.

One Stitch at a Time – A Veteran Parent looks at Hanging Tight

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My kid made this, on her first try ❤

By:Jana Greene

I wrote this after posting a synopsis my daughter’s birthday events on my personal Facebook wall. After reading my own post, I thought about all of my friends whose children are going through the lurch-and-soar adolescent and young adult years…

The parents who tense up every time their sullen child walks through the room. The parents whose baby birds are royally screwing the nest up but not quite flying yet. The ones who cannot possibly foresee their kids losing the attitude and sass. The ones whose hearts are breaking. The ones up all night praying that their babies will ‘come back around.’

It occurred to me that one single Facebook post about a blissful evening with one’s grown-up children over-simplifies the experience, waters it down. It was kind of nauseating, really, without any back-story. So I am writing this for the battle-weary parents out there who thought it couldn’t get any worse than the terrible twos (it can, and it does, I’m sorry to tell you. Each year of your child’s life you have less and less control.)

But…

Take heart! One day you will really genuinely LIKE your kids and look forward to having them all in one room! Crazy, right? But you will!

What a difference a couple of years can make. Just wrapped up the family birthday party for my precious Firstborn, turning 23. She came over early so we had some one-on-one time before the party. I love spending time with my daughters.

“Mom, will you teach me how to cross stitch?” she says, out of the clear blue sky.

So I do, and we talk and stitch, catching up on things. I tell her that cross stitching is not complicated. It is just making little x’s. And then continuing to make little x’s until you see the bigger picture.

“If you veer off the pattern, improvise,” I told her. “Get creative and make something beautifully original from it.”

Watching my wild and zany offspring – the one who only a couple of years ago required some painful (for both of us) Tough Love – the one whose Edgar Allen Poe “Nevermore” tattoo is still healing on her arm – navigate a sewing hoop with a needle and floss? It was darling, I tell you. She is adorable, and I’m not just saying that because I am her mother.

We’ve been through some tough times in our relationship. We are so similar it can be annoying to both of us. And where we are different, we are SO different. My children and I still disagree on TONS of things. So many things that it could easily cause a rift, if we allowed it. I refuse to allow it.

Kids go through all kinds of phases, but here is the big secret: So do we, as parents.

My younger daughter arrived to the party, and we all get louder and more animated, as has always been the case. We aren’t a quiet, staid family. By the time the boyfriend of the birthday girl arrives, my husband is home, and I serve a roast and mashed potatoes – very June Cleaver of me, even if they were Bob Evans frozen mashed potatoes and cheesecake from Costco.

The evening continued as a dinner for grown up people who love each other …  not like a tense and drama-laden mandatory occasion to get together and sing happy birthday because that’s the thing to DO on one of our birthdays. Honestly, when the girls were all teens, I dreaded birthdays, because someone always had her knickers in a knot for every family occasion. Somebody was PMSing ALL the time, myself included.

It occurs to me how VERY much I like my kids (I love them of COURSE)….but I just really like them as human beings, too. These beautiful, interesting, hilarious, passionate, and loving people I got to give birth to because God somehow determined in his Mysterious Ways that I was up to the challenge. And challenging it has been, but so, so precious is that honor.

Peace. No fights. Just love, and inside jokes and warmth. And cheesecake, of course!

We sang a haphazard version of “Happy Birthday” and she opened presents. The wrapping on the gifts had been chewed on my two very naughty kitty cats who shall remain unnamed. Also, one of the gift bags was old. It’s probably been in circulation since 1997. But no matter.

Parenting is like cross stitching. You just make one ‘x’ at a time. Some of them are messy stitches, but if you never saw the back of the fabric, you would never know. To the casual observer, it might appear to have been easy work, raising kids.

Everyone has messy needle-work on the side that doesn’t face the world. That family down the street in the big house, the family that participates in activities together every night of the week and whose kids go on mission trips? The “perfect” mom you see at preschool whose very presence makes you feel disheveled and less-than?

They have knots and tangles, too.

And you know what? God LOVES that side. He loves us, messy stitches and all.

One of my dear friends has a daughter approaching “Magical Seven.” The age of seven is – in my humble opinion – the pinnacle of parenting because at that age kids are still sweet and think you hung the moon. They are just delightful. After I posted about my Firstborn’s wonderful birthday evening at the house, she asked me if I had any advice on weathering the adolescent years. Is there anything you can do to prepare?

My kids are 20 and 23, and 23 (I’m blessed extra by having a Bonus Daughter), and I will not even PRETEND to have the actual useful answers. But I HAVE learned this:

Hang tight. Love hard. Don’t be afraid to make a hard bottom line and stick to it. Don’t be afraid to say ‘I’m sorry.” Pray lots. Laugh tons. Find common ground, it’s always there. Never give up hope! Remember that she is not an extension of you…a part of you, yes; but not an extension. Her mistakes will be her own, and she will make them. But she WILL BE OKAY and so will you. And before you know it, she is calling you out of the clear blue sky to ask you to meet her for sushi or to see a movie. And while you are lunching with this young woman, you will be astonished that there was a time that she was so sassy and downright mean to you. She may even say, “Hey mom? I’m sorry I was such an asshole.” And you will say “I’m sorry I was an asshole sometimes, too. I made a lot of mistakes.”

Because that sort of thing can totally happen, and did to me.

I’m so grateful for all we have to do as mothers is keep making little x’s to the best of our ability until we see the bigger picture. Sometimes the finished product doesn’t look at all like the pattern but is even more beautiful. We make it complicated, but It isn’t our masterpiece to make.

And if you, as a parent, veer too far from the pattern? Improvise. God will make something beautifully original from it.

Parenting for the Potty-Mouthed but Well-Intentioned

Potty-Mouth Parenting

Or, When Your Adult Children Live at Home

By:  Jana Greene

Let me sing for you” the song of my people”.

It goes a little like this:  “ &@#*&!#@!!!!  

(Chorus: &*@!%!, #%*!@)**!!!))

A few days ago, I had a huge blow-up argument with my (nearly 20-year-old) daughter  about something that was not a big deal to her, but was a really big deal to me.  The thing that made me the angriest was that I felt it should be a big deal to her, too.

She and I are very close.  We “get” each other.  But nobody reaches The Point of no Return faster than she and I.  Like (and I really hate to make this analogy) two poodles yapping at one another through a glass door.  Not seriously out to do damage, but competing for the loudest yip, the most audacious showing of teeth.  We can take it from 0 to 60 in seconds, feeding off of one another’s tone of voice, pushing the buttons on the customized panel of emotions in record speed.

As Chef Emeril says – BAM!

Sometimes, I yell at my kids.

Sometimes, I say curse words.

Sometimes, I use curse words while yelling at my kids, but not often.

I’m a follower of Christ.  I am supposed to know better.  And I do.

I’m not proud of either the cursing or the yelling.  As a matter of fact, I’m ashamed.  I am asking God to help me in the times that my tongue is swifter (if not mightier) than the sword; the times when my words become the rudder for my ship of thoughts before I can tell which way the wind is blowing.

I have to give it to Christ constantly, my itchy trigger-tounge.

In days of yore, kids generally moved out at 18, at just about the time you reached the end of your proverbial “rope”.    I always kind of simultaneously  dreaded and looked forward to “18” for that reason.  I had preconceptions about that magical age.

Now, more adult children are living at home than ever.  You hear a lot about the effect on the kids – not so much on the hapless parents who dearly love them but are ready to enjoy the fruits of what they’d long ago decided was ‘successful parenting’.

In my particular parenting fantasy, the children would move away to college at 18 (on scholarship, of course) but come home frequently to visit.  While they are living apart from us in a learning environment, I imagine their activities being scholarly in nature… you know:

  • Studying so hard that they regularly shut down the library (I like to picture them using old Encyclopedia  Britannicas and a card catalogue.  Hey, it’s my fantasy!)
  • Leading  peaceful youth rallies for conservative reform (again…its my fantasy)
  • volunteering in soup kitchens in their free time (or some other completely unselfish pursuit)

But they didn’t move out.   These beloved girls of mine are now almost 17, 19 and 20.   And their undertakings are not all scholarly in nature.

I know I am the mother, and that my adult daughter is still the child, and that those parameters are a constant; they never change.  But they do morph as kids grow up.  And because I’m the mother, there is a pushing away on her part.

In a climate in which five adults live together, there is bound to be conflict.  I’m learning to accept that reality.  I’m learning that my fantasies of parenting college-aged children are not rooted in much reality at all.  I just want my kids to be happy and successful, whatever that might be to them.

The good news is that the “trigger tongue” gets a little less itchy each time I ask God to help me with it and that forgiveness reigns supreme, in relation to God’s grace and between my daughter and I.

Long after I am flogging myself with the torches still hot from the last argument, she has forgotten the whole poodle-esque drama.

The wonderful thing about our relationship is that she and I feel the same urgency with forgiving one another as we do in escalating the fight.  We want to make things right, because  LOVE  is the greatest of all four-letter-words.

So then comes the true “song of my people”.  It mostly goes  like this:

I’m sorry.

I didn’t mean what I said.

I love you. 

(Chorus:  you drive me CRAZY, but I love you still!)

BAM!  Right in the soul.